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Syracuse University Human Rights Film Festival Celebrates 15th Anniversary

By News Staff

September 25, 2017

The Syracuse University Human Rights Film Festival (SUHRFF) celebrates its 15th anniversary this year as it once again brings to Central New York an outstanding lineup of critically acclaimed films addressing social justice issues from around the globe.

Being held Sept. 28-30, the festival is part of Syracuse Symposium 2017-18: Belonging and is presented by the Humanities Center in the College of Arts and Sciences and the S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. An interdisciplinary event, SUHRFF embodies the spirit of One University—achieving even greater things at the University through the work of many disciplines.

“The Newhouse School is proud to be a founder and supporter of the SU Human Rights Film Festival for the last 15-years,” says Newhouse School Dean Lorraine Branham. “It is crucial that all students use their education and skills to make a difference in the world and look for opportunities to highlight social justice issues in their work. The festival provides positive examples for them to emulate.”

All screenings are free and open to the public. DHH accommodations will be provided.

The festival opens on Thursday, Sept. 28, at 7 p.m. in the Joyce Hergenhan Auditorium, Newhouse 3, with a screening of “For Ahkeem,” directed by Jeremy Levine and Landon Van Soest. Premiering earlier this year at the Berlin and Tribeca film festivals, and lauded by Jet magazine as “THE millennial documentary on Black girlhood,” this award-winning documentary offers an intimate and timely portrait of an African American teenager in St. Louis as she struggles against institutional racism, social marginalization and self-doubt. Levine and Van Soest will introduce the film.

“We’re thrilled to bring this incredible film and its makers to open our festival,” says Roger Hallas, associate professor of English in the College of Arts and Sciences and co-director of the festival. “It offers a truly powerful coming-of-age story that engages with so many of the critical issues of our time, including institutional racism, gun violence, police brutality, teen pregnancy and the school-to-prison pipeline.”

The theme of belonging further resonates in “Memories of a Penitent Heart,” which screens on Friday, Sept. 30, at 7 p.m. in the Joyce Hergenhan Auditorium, Newhouse 3.

Filmmaker Cecilia Aldarondo cracks open a Pandora’s box of unresolved family drama as she explores the life and death of her uncle Miguel, who died of an AIDS-related illness 25 years ago. A story about the mistakes of the past and the second chances of the present, “Memories of a Penitent Heart” is a cautionary tale about the unresolved conflicts wrought by AIDS, and a nuanced exploration of how faith is used and abused in times of crisis. The screening will be introduced by Aldarondo.

The festival continues on Saturday afternoon at the Shemin Auditorium in the Shaffer Art Building with screenings of “The Good Postman,” about a Bulgarian village coping with the refugee crisis, and “Plastic China,” about the recycling industry in China.

“We are very honored to have Syracuse Mayor Stephanie Miner come to speak after the screening of ‘The Good Postman’ to discuss the local contexts for these urgent global issues,” notes Tula Goenka, professor of television, radio and film in the Newhouse School and co-director of the festival. “We believe that a key role of the festival is to offer our audiences opportunities to understand the connections between the local and the global aspects of human rights struggles. This is truly a festival that spans many disciplines and we are grateful for the many partners that have made this possible.”

The festival began in 2003 under the banner “Illuminating Oppression.” A collaborative project with the NGO Breakthrough and Asia Society, it originally focused on films about South Asia. In the following years, co-directors Goenka and Hallas expanded the festival to a global scope. Vivian May, director of the Humanities Center and professor of women’s and gender studies, lauds the festival for its impact: “Tula and Roger collaborate each year to find new ways to bring the community together to engage with complex questions of inequality and social justice. The Humanities Center is proud to partner with the festival, which underscores how creative mediums, like film, are essential in our collective pursuit of a more just world for all.”

To celebrate its 15th-year anniversary, Goenka and Hallas worked with undergraduate advertising students in Professor Kevin O’Neill’s ADV 421 class at the Newhouse School to develop a special promotional campaign. Goenka acknowledges the tremendous value of such experiential learning. “It was inspiring to hear their final pitches to us as genuine clients,” Goenka says. “They really stepped up to the plate with their creativity, which generated our powerful new festival tagline, Through Film We Fight On. Two students, Manuel Garcia ’17 [ADV] and Eunice Pang ’18 [ADV], helped our designer Joanna Giansanti create new graphic elements, including cool festival T-shirts, which will be given to the first attendees to arrive at each screening.”

The film festival is co-sponsored by the David B. Falk College of Sport and Human Dynamics, School of Education, South Asia Center, Citizenship and Civic Engagement Program, International Relations Program, Latino-Latin American Studies Program, Program for the Advancement of Research on Conflict and Collaboration (PARCC), LGBT Resource Center and SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry. It is further supported by the Disability Cultural Center, Office of Multicultural Affairs, Department of Art and Music Histories, Department of Geography, Department of History, Department of Political Science, Department of Religion, Department of Sociology, Department of Women’s and Gender Studies, LGBT Studies Program and SASSE: Students Advocating Safe Sex and Empowerment.

Free public parking is available in the Lehman, University and Harrison lots on University Avenue after 6 p.m. on Thursday and Friday. On Saturday, parking is available in Q4 and other open parking lots.

All films are either closed-captioned or subtitled in English. Computer Assisted Real-Time Translation (CART) will also be available at all screenings for the introductions and discussions. If you require other accommodations, please contact Kristen Northrop ( or 315.443.7358) by Sept. 21.

Full information can be found on the festival website:

The festival schedule includes the following:

OPENING NIGHT: Thursday, Sept. 28

 “For Ahkeem”
Jeremy Levine and Landon Van Soest
(USA, 2017, 89 min, closed-captioned in English)
7 p.m., Joyce Hergenhan Auditorium, Newhouse 3
The intimate coming-of-age story of a black teenager in St. Louis struggling against institutional racism, social marginalization and self-doubt.

Friday, Sept. 29.

“Memories of a Penitent Heart”
Cecilia Aldarondo
(USA, 2016, 77 min, closed-captioned in English)
7 p.m., Joyce Hergenhan Auditorium, Newhouse 3
Twenty-five years after Miguel died of AIDS, his niece cracks open a Pandora’s box of unresolved family drama.

Saturday, Sept. 30

“The Good Postman”
Tonislav Hristov
(Finland/Bulgaria, 2016, 82 min, Bulgarian with English subtitles)
1 p.m., Shemin Auditorium, Shaffer Art Building
A humble mailman sees the refugees streaming through his dying Bulgarian village as one last chance to revitalize it.

“Plastic China”
Jiu-liang Wang
(Hong Kong/China, 2016, 82 min, Mandarin with English subtitles)
4 p.m., Shemin Auditorium, Shaffer Art Building
A portrait of poverty, ambition and hope amidst the lifeless toxic landscape of China’s plastic recycling industry.

“Lipstick Under My Burkha” (Closing night film)
Alankrita Shrivastava
(India, 2016, 116 min, Hindi with English subtitles)
7 p.m., Shemin Auditorium, Shaffer Art Building
Trapped in their own worlds, four Indian women claim their desires through secret acts of rebellion.